Treks to Everest continue to captivate the imagination of climbers and walkers all around the world. Ever since its discovery, hundreds of expeditions have been made to the world’s highest mountain. Some have ended in disaster, others have discovered new routes to the top or achieved significant records. Here are five of the most famous Everest expeditions…
1924 – The Mallory Expedition
The famed British explorer and mountaineer George Mallory had made a previous attempt on the summit in 1922, an expedition that met with disaster when seven porters died in an avalanche. In 1924, he returned to Everest Base Camp determined to make it to the top, resulting in one of the most famous and tragic expeditions in the history of the mountain.
On 8th June 1924, George Mallory, alongside his climbing partner Andrew Irvine, made his second and ultimately ill-fated attempt on the summit of Everest. Trekking and climbing up the hazardous terrain, they were spotted by Noel Odell (another member of the expedition) on what appeared to be the Second Step, a few hours climb away from the summit itself. Neither Mallory nor Irvine made it down. Mallory’s body was finally discovered in 1999, but Irvine’s has never been found. Debate continues to rage in the mountaineering community as to whether or not either of them made it to the summit before they died.
1953 – First Successful Ascent
29 years after the Mallory Expedition, Edmund Hillary (a New Zealand climber) and Tenzing Norgay (a Nepalese Sherpa) finally made the first confirmed ascent of Mount Everest. Their trek to Everest was part of a British expedition in March 1953 that was determined to finally conquer the world’s highest mountain. After settling in Everest Base Camp, two members of the expedition (Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans) made the first attempt, but were driven back 300 metres from the summit due to bad weather and a malfunctioning oxygen system. Two days later, on the 29 May 1953, Hillary and Tenzing made it to the top, becoming the first men to stand on the highest point on Earth. On his return from the summit, Hillary met his companion George Lowe and simply said: « Well, George, we knocked the bastard off. »
1980 – First Solo Ascent
By 1980, the veteran Italian climber Reinhold Messner had set one Everest trekking record already; in 1978, he and his climbing partner Peter Habeler became the first climbers to make an ascent of Everest without using bottled oxygen, refuting the claims of a large number of mountaineers and doctors at the time who thought this was impossible. In 1980 he set another record, making the first solo ascent of Mount Everest (also without oxygen).
1996 – The Everest Disaster
1996 was a tragic year for Everest trekking – fifteen people died, eight of them in a single day, in what is the worst disaster on Everest to date.
On May 10 1996, over 30 climbers set off from Everest Base Camp to make their attempts on the summit. A number of delays and the sheer number of climbers making the ascent meant that many achieved the summit after 2pm, much later than is considered safe. On the way down, a sudden blizzard hit the mountain, burying the fixed ropes used in the climb and concealing the path back to Everest Base Camp. Due to the poor visibility, the climbers were quickly separated and disoriented, and eight of them died of exposure. Most poignant was the case of Rob Hall – having stayed behind to try and help another member of the expedition, he was stranded on the South Summit. He managed to speak to his wife on satellite phone, saying « Sleep well, my sweetheart. Please don’t worry too much, » before dying soon after.
2004 – Fastest Ever Ascent
There are all kinds of climbing records associated with Mount Everest, and in 2004 Pemba Dorjie (a Nepalese Sherpa) set an impressive one – the fastest ever successful ascent and descent of Everest, making it there and back over the southeast ridge in eight hours and ten minutes.
With plenty of records still to break and hundreds of climbers each year determined to make it to the top, trekking to Everest will continue to generate new heroes (and new tragedies) for years to come.
About the Author
Jude Limburn Turner is the Marketing Manager for Mountain Kingdoms, an adventure tour company who have run Everest Base Camp treks for over 20 years. They now offer treks and tours worldwide, including destinations in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central and South East Asia.
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